2012, Our EDSA moment

2012, Our EDSA moment image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted January 26, 2012 15:38

The EDSA era of 2012

In the field of economics there is this Schumpeterian idea called Creative Destruction, which essentially means that to be able to build anew, one must demolish the old. Completely and absolutely. But some of our economic managers have the habit of shooting themselves in the foot. So instead of building upon or at least sustaining the momentum of robust economic growth and consumption spending at the election year that ended the Arroyo administration in 2010, the new administration went on hunting for cases of tax evasion, plunder and corruption. This had the unfortunate side effect of throttling public spending and undermining business confidence. Zeal was further zapped when what was meant to be a well intentioned anti-corrupt practices refinement of BOT statutes, turned into the muddle that has been known as the PPP.

The government will always claim that what prods growth in investment and consumption is a matter of perception. Without a doubt, the perception that matters most is not the musings and sound bites of a handful of tycoons that many treat as oracles of prediction or economic forecasts. It is the perception of the hard-working, traffic-suffering, credit-hungry, tax-burdened, media-influenced, materially aspiring Middle Class that determine how big ticket game changing economic goods are consumed.

But isn't this the same Middle Class that voted to power, via EDSA, the near sainted Cory Aquino in 1986? The same Middle Class that preferred the flawed election of Gen. Ramos over the youth vote choice of Miriam Santiago? The same Middle Class that disowned Erap as one of its own as the true democracy of people power propelled him to serve a presidential term as short as Dr J. P. Laurel's ? And the same Middle Class that preferred the Aquino brand name in 2010 over businessmen/college grad/trapo candidates that entered the field. Be careful what you wish for.

We did once opine that EDSA is not the Plaza Miranda of the daily life of a nation. Sure, EDSA has proved more powerful than the ballot box in engendering change in governments but is it truly representative of the Philippines? Fortunately or unfortunately, EDSA is indicative of what the highly urbanized 50 plus per cent of our citizenry endure daily. EDSA is not a Main Street USA, nor a promenade of vanity like the Croisette or the Promenade d' Anglais. It cannot be as EDSA symbolizes the total failure of urban planning and design of our country. EDSA's congestion is duplicated every day in every burgeoning market town and sprawling city in these 7,000 islands.

And yet, what the government does in EDSA is imitated across the nation; Metro-Aides, traffic aides, Bus lanes, flyovers, U-turns, coding, Road right of way clearing, etc. What public utility vehicles do on EDSA is mirrored across the nation; double parking, cut throat competition, reckless driving, overloading, illegal terminals, narcotics laced driving and no-dispatch scheduling. What private enterprise does on EDSA is all over the country: ambulant vendors, rugby sniffing, ethnic families camping on medians, stray urchins, giant electronic billboards, pornographic ads, etc. And yes, the occasional traffic tangling civil rights protest.

EDSA trumpets the explosion of growth in two-wheeled motoring. And the consequent expansion of Safety Riding Schools by Honda and ex-Honda officers in reaction to the mounting number of accidents due to unskilled riding.

If there still are too many buses on EDSA, then that means there's money to be made. The same can be said on the roads that feed into EDSA. Tricycles, jeepneys, pedicabs and multi-cabs all converge on every junction already burgeoning with stalls of fresh produce in the morning, serried ranks of ihaw-ihaw street food in the afternoon and assorted clothing/dry goods in the evening. They're there because its a living, they say. Then there's money to be made. Alerting Kim Henares and Ces Purisima. The scene, replicated across the nation, shows how the deregulated sectors thrive.

Since fuel and energy, vital inputs for Public Transport, are unregulated, all the more reason that transport fares should be market dictated. We are not calling for absolute abandonment to market forces. For instance, there should be strict comfort and safety minimum standards for all vehicles that call themselves Public Utility. Those tricycle sidecars good enough for pygmies or as a chicken coop should be banned. Buses that have ungoverned engines should be banned. Jeepneys with crash risky flimsy structural chassis stretches should be banned. Salaries and maximum hours spent driving should be regulated. Locations and design of terminals and stops should not be the cause of congestion.

Through the years, several Congressmen and Senators have proposed ways to limit cut throat competition by outlawing the boundary system of compensation for public transport workers. Senator Sotto recently enquired why public transportation is not a state monopoly as is the practice in many countries. The answer lies in vetting the franchisees. Metro Manila, like the water utility franchise, should be considered as one or two large franchise areas – like Maynilad and Manila Water. The franchise can be bided out to well capitalized companies, who can be affiliated with large foreign groups with global reach and expertise like Stagecoach Plc or even the Hong Kong-China Motor Bus or even the MTR of Hong Kong. These private companies can now invest in the BRT – Bus Rapid Transit – as found in Bogota, Curitiba and some parts of Jakarta and Bangkok. Or the model can be like London's where the Greater London Council franchised London Transport which in turn franchised the London transport grid to select bus companies. This can be another PPP initiative with several years for the franchisee to recover investment. Only then can the cut throat reckless driving and the excess number of buses be reduced.

EDSA has a Mass Transit system, even if LRT-1 and MRT are disjointed today. All the more reason to rely on this to decongest the axial flow of traffic through the metropolis. The LRT-1 MRT's long delayed upgrade to longer trains has been stymied by poor profitability due to train fares that are too low, which doubly places a drain on the public purse. The PPP program is so muddled, that any investment in the railway isn't forthcoming. If the public transport sector is to be deregulated, then all the more reason for the private sector to be invited to invest and operate the railway. It is disingenuous to propose lower fares by way of a heavily indebted government and call it pro-consumer. If a business doesn't make money, especially if it is government owned and operated, guess who foots the bill? Let market forces decide as there can be no more pro-consumer alternative than that.

EDSA is also the acid test and bragging right of super-administrative bodies like the MMDA.That's why MMDA should continue to pursue and maintain successful initiatives like the Interaksyon MMDA traffic reports on twitter, planted reflective studs as lane dividers, concrete Jersey barriers to discourage the dreaded “swerving” and jaywalking, elongated rotunda traffic flows, reflective tiles on channelized traffic islands, no-contact policing, LIDAR enforced speed limits, the Motorsiklo lane, the bus trip rationalization dispatch systems and many more. For instance, the rest of the nation watches if the MMDA can really enforce the dispersal of bus terminals from Cubao to the fringes of the Metro.

EDSA is also the barometer of what the Middle class aspires for. At any time, it can reflect the changing tastes of the buying public from Pajeros to AUVs, from Civics to Fiestas. It also is a glamor avenue for car spotters who regale at a Nissan GT-R or Lamborghini Aventador idling right beside a Ro-Ro bound Yutong bus. No President in modern history has not had the misfortune of passing through the congealed traffic of EDSA from Santolan to Magallanes, sans wang-wang or not.

EDSA epitomizes the Herculean and Sisyphus like task of the government. Grand plans like the EDSA skyway or smart tunnels grab headlines. But while EDSA continues to grab the nation's attention, all alternatives to EDSA, ironically, continue to exist in neglected limbo. Its been one year into the much vaunted Christmas/Mabuhay lanes which were already reaching capacity when the Cubao and Shaw underpasses were being built in the 70s. After all, these are nothing but disjointed suburban streets that were already past their prime when MMC Governor Mel Mathay's sideburns were still black.

From the time of Sec. Vigilar, Erap's DPWH Secretary, it has taken several years before a new bridge, the Estrella-Pantaleon bridge, was built to span the Pasig. Metro Tollways has already built the Mindanao Ave clover leaf, but the government has yet to clear the way for C-5 to reach the still a-building flyover at Commonwealth to link to the Tandang Sora end of C-5. C-3's Araneta Ave. Quezon Ave. underpass project is a drop in the proverbial traffic clearing bucket as the rest of C-3 is still peppered with traffic light junctions.

The effects of and on EDSA stretches as far north as Pagudpud and southeast to Matnog. When VAT was included in toll fee hikes, consumers of Luzon wailed. Here, they alleged was another instance of double taxation. Others said, it was killing the geese that lays the golden eggs. Like accountants that see the trees but not the forest, the VAT on toll fees now becomes an input VAT and with correct deductions, gain the BIR an incremental revenue, but not as much as the gross numbers suggest. The long lawsuit-delayed implementation for the correct toll fee to be charged on the new SLEx became a festering disincentive to foreign investors willing to invest in our collapsing infrastructure, which in turn is caused by low toll fees. The NAIA expressway also took a long time before a proper toll fee was charged.

Though extra-urban railway lines were a positive option, the stymied North Rail still has to take its first passenger away from the lucrative Central Luzon provincial bus lines. The commuter railway line from Buendia to Alabang continues to be a quaint coffee shop topic as the frequency of trips benefits only a few. The Bicol railway line still has to reach the Metro in order to make a dent on the weekly multi-million exodus escaping the city.

After a drought in start ups of shovel ready infrastructure projects, the PPP finally bagged its first winning bidder when Ayala Group won the build-operate contract for the 4km Daang Hari toll expressway linking SLEx Susana Heights to Bacoor, Cavite. This would be a giant relief for all those congested national roads criss-crossing western Laguna and central Cavite. Ayala, long absent in public infrastructure participation, is partnered with Getinsa, a Spanish firm that has built expressways in Latin America, the EU and Vietnam.

What is instructive and encouraging about this win is that Ayala bested the competition by a good 33%. It need not take rocket science to infer that the 30 year franchise is a fairly good term for cyclical capital expenditure to maintain and upgrade the toll road for consumer safety and convenience. It also allows toll rates to be set relatively low since there'll be a long period of time recoup investment and make profits that can be ploughed back to keep up with the latest trends in expressway hardware and operations, similar to what MNTC does with the NLEx and SFEx. In other words, there is money to be made. These greenshoots of PPP activity is perhaps why SM Group's Megawide construction, partnered with IHI Infrastructure, Japanese specialists in infrastructure. San Miguel Corporation infrastructure arm is now Citra Metro Manila Skyway's chosen partner for extensive expressway plans down South, which may soon include the Cypress group, foreign partners of STAR Tollway.

We've come a long way from the days when Governments financed and built roads to a minimum technical specification and awarded the construction contract to the lowest bidder. With tax collection always trailing demands for transport infrastructure, Governments had to approach external sources of finance and consequently go into debt. With the entry of Private sector finance and initiative, starting with BOT, toll road building across the globe has exploded and have mostly followed EU directives not just by awarding toll road building and operating to the highest bidder but also to those who can propose technical specifications that out perform the minimum requirements.

Case in point is the Millau viaduct in France. If built by public funds/debt and contracted to the lowest builder, the result would be a long meandering highway climbing several peaks and descending through valleys, multiplying the length of the highway and presenting several danger zones. With the cable stayed viaduct spanning the peaks and troughs of the beautiful Tarn valley landscape, not only is nature viewed from a lofty driving seat but travel times are relaxed and shorter. Locally, our SCTEx was built to very high Japanese environmental and touristic standards which makes it one of the most scenic of local expressways.

Alas, our more immediate concern is to span the infrastructure gap that has multiplied over the past 30 years. Any drive along EDSA shows how the nation's prime economic engine, Manila, is headed to a grinding halt as EDSA suffers traffic thrombosis. A Skyway over EDSA would be grand but so would the traffic headache be while it is being built. C-5 and C-3, the other circumferential roads that should backstop EDSA, are peppered with too many junctions and commercial establishments that have direct curbside access to its carriageways.

Help is on its way as the Private Sector has three proposals. Despite what some sectors think, the 3 proposals do not actually compete with each other and are rather complimentary.

The first is a project already approved during the Ramos Administration; Skyway Stage 3. Stretching 14.5 kms from Buendia Skyway to Balintawak Cloverleaf/EDSA, Stage 3 has 8 interchanges and covers Quirino Ave., Pandacan-San Juan, G. Araneta and A. Bonifacio Avenues. This will make an excellent cross-Metro through way with plenty of on/off ramps for commuter traffic. Perhaps, with so much more traffic since 1998, all Stage 3 needs is an upgrading from the proposed 2x2 lanes elevated carriageway to 3x3 lanes to compliment Skyway Stage 1 and Stage 2. Citra, Skyway's Indonesian owner has the financial muscle to see this through.

The 2nd project is the NLEx-SLEx connector. This is part of the NLEx extension project from Package 09 [Mindanao Ave. clover leaf to Maysan, Valenzuela MacArthur Highway] and Package 10 or Harbor Link, the elevated stacked highway over the PNR right of way that ends in C-3 in order to serve North Harbor Truck traffic. From C-3, the stacked highway continues to proceed over the railway until it can fuse with Skyway Stage 1 at Buendia. The project allows plenty of space for ground level twin railway tracks and vertical clearance for electric catenary systems for high speed trains. Within the metro area, there will only be interchanges on Letre-C-3, Espana and Buendia/Skyway. The Metro Pacific Group can easily finance this project.

Thus the NLEx-SLEx connector becomes the “express” north-south route through Manila and a primary route for harbor/warehouse bound trucks, while Skyway stage 3 provides for a “local” route that distributes traffic from the bedroom communities north and south of the city, further decongesting EDSA.

The 3rd proposal is the Skyway Stage 4, also by Citra, which starts from the proposed spaghetti junction in the FTI area that connects NAIA expressway, Skyway Stage 1, C-5 and C-6. Stage 4 goes all the way to Marcos Highway at Masinag. The follow up Stage 5 goes through Rodriguez, Rizal and ends at Marilao NLEx. By taking away traffic bound for eastern and north eastern Metro Manila, Skyway Stage 4 would thus relieve traffic on what is the longest rush hour bus stop in the world, the length of EDSA from Magallanes to Cubao. Hopefully, DPWH views these projects as complimentary rather than competing.

EDSA is the window where government agencies presence and effectivity can be felt and hopefully, mirrored on a national scale. Smoke belching vehicles continue to be victimized by the local government anti-smoke belching units that answer to no known pollution level standard. What has the LTO done with the MVIS [motor vehicle inspection system] program since the time of one Ferdinand E. Marcos? And speaking of the departed strongman, have you noticed the resurrection of alpha prefixes “N” and “P” on license plates, prefixes common during the Marcos era? Its evidence that the LTO has reached the end of the road for the 6-character alpha numeric permutations for license plates. Which calls for the implementation of the 8-character elongated plates nicknamed “Euro” plates. There were plans when Bert Suansing was in the LTO, and yes Virginia, all you have to do is dust off those plans.

The world enters the remains of the decade with uncertainty emanating from the former locomotives of the world economy. US society is too polarized to even think of growth, much less a return to economic normalcy, unless double dip Recessions are its staple. The Euro zone is in danger of disintegrating, making the word Euro and zone a contradiction in terms. Japan, wracked by disasters, continues in the same funk, the same stasis that has defined not one but two lost decades. In all three former powerhouses, the special interests of the entrenched elite cling on to their entitlements at the cost of alienating and impoverishing the many, dragging down the world's economy. This has led to a generation of aimless youth, the very core of what the future Middle Class should be.

The world can only be driven by the resolute. You read “emerging markets” from the lips of seers and economists alike. But the real source of growth is a practitioner of capitalism in its purest form, a corporatist state that is bent on making money whenever and wherever it can. Without China, the world would have entered the 2nd Great Depression in less than a hundred years time. China prods growth on all fronts; exports and domestic market. It has reached a stage of development where exports can grow without em-burdening or stifling the domestic sector. This is correct as growth is not a zero sum game.

We are small and our exports are minuscule? True, but what we can learn from China is the “can do” spirit that focuses of making things happen. Though they had their time, the stability of China was a reached when they stopped the habit of discrediting and witch hunting the old whenever a new government kicks in.

We need not be dependent on OCW remittance as we still have a relatively sizable agricultural sector. There is plenty of room to incentivize Agriculture as 100 million mouths to feed is a big market. Whether we sweep out the monopsonists and oligopolists and create a miracle in agricultural production and equitable distribution of wealth – the way telecommunications was reformed - the problem is how to share the produce and the wealth with the country's other non-agricultural half? The transport sector has managed this with great difficulty as the lag in investment in our infrastructure grows exponentially with each passing year. By any account, 2010 AND 2011 can never be counted as banner years in closing the infrastructure gap.

Besides the constant purging of previous administrations whenever a new one takes over, there is a more in-your-face example of the Philippine version of Creative Destruction. You can find it on EDSA. Its called Concrete Blocking. Since 1980, the DPWH has methodically demolished alternating concrete blocks of EDSA's 6 lanes. In so doing, the jack hammering of the target block cause untold structural stress and damage to the neighboring concrete block, guaranteeing that it will get its turn the next dry season. And it goes on in a never ending cycle. Meantime, congestion builds during construction time, usually an exodus weekend while no new lanes are ever added. Case in point: a section of EDSA that Kaingin Road abuts in Quezon City has had blocking alternatively done to each of its 6 lanes some five times in the last 30 years. Imagine duplicating this on all the country's highways. Rightly or wrongly, whatever happens in EDSA sets a trend.

Meantime, Metro Pacific Tollways is also proposing the CaLa Expressway linking C-6 at the SLEx Asia Brewery Greenfield interchange, crossing Laguna and Cavite to link with the terminus of the Cavite Coastal Expressway at Tirona Cavite. With the NAIA Expressway already linked to the Skyway, Metro Pacific Tollways plans to build an elevated expressway connecting NAIA to the Cavite Coastal Expressway over the existing Andrews Avenue, Domestic and MIA roads.

This bit of news can make a nice inauguration speech for President B. S. Aquino, appropriate for the occasion of integrating the toll collection and operations of the NLEx, SCTEx and SFEx. This way, when he decides to drive from Malacanang to Luisita, the only toll booths he will need to clear are in Balintawak and Luisita. We infrastructure starved motorists all look forward to this speech when he finally turns over the SCTEx to Metro Pacific Tollways. Believe it or not, that will still be good news for EDSA.